The Kansas agency that oversees adoption and foster care supports legislation that would let organizations refuse placements with families — including gay and lesbian couples —based on religious beliefs.
The legislation would also prohibit Kansas Department for Children and Families and other parts of state government from denying contracts to agencies that refuse placements on religious grounds.
"By passing this bill, it is an opportunity for additional (child placement agencies) that have had concerns of working in Kansas in the past, to come along side DCF to locate and maintain homes in which to place Kansas’ children," DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said in a statement.
Meier-Hummel’s support for the bills came amid legislative hearings Tuesday. In written comments, she said that with more than 7,000 children in DCF custody, it is imperative the agency advocates for policies and law that encourage more child placement agencies, not fewer.
"This bill addresses possible barriers that may be keeping CPAs from coming to Kansas to work with DCF," Meier-Hummel said.
The legislation’s proponents contend faith-based adoption agencies would be forced to close if ever required to place children against their religious beliefs. They say agencies in other states have shut down because they were told to place children with same-sex couples.
They also say that the legislation would codify what private placement agencies are already doing.
Opponents say the legislation is discriminatory. The legislation would put the needs of some child welfare providers over the children they are supposed to serve, they say. And they warn the bill could potentially limit the number of available foster and adoptive parents.
"They’re wanting to tap into taxpayer money that gay and lesbian couples around the state pay just like everyone else and then deny us service," said Tom Witt, director of Equality Kansas.
DCF’s support for the legislation comes after Meier-Hummel said in December that the agency would have "zero tolerance" for discrimination in adoption and foster care cases. LGBT couples had accused the agency of discriminating in the past under her predecessor, Phyllis Gilmore, who retired last fall.
The bill says that no child placement agency can be denied a government contract or grant because of refusal to make placements based on religious beliefs. Child placement agencies could also not be denied licenses because of a refusal to make placements.
The legislation would not apply to DCF’s current case management contractors, KVC and St. Francis Community Services.
Organizations that want to compete for case management contracts in the future could not be turned down because of refusal to place with LGBT couples under the bills.
Deborah Snap, director of Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas, said the organization receives no state funds for its adoption program and is funded through fees and donations. She said the bill would not prevent people with different values from pursuing adoptions with other agencies.
"We believe that a licensed child placing agency should be free to exercise its professional judgment in the creation of new families from the client base that comes to the agency," Snap said.
Christie Appelhanz, director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas, said allowing any placement agency to turn away qualified families based on religious objections would mean losing opportunities to find families that may be best-suited to meet the needs of children.
"We can’t count on prospective families who have been turned away because of their sexual orientation, faith or other religious-based criteria will continue knocking on doors of other agencies, each time facing the risk of rejection," Appelhanz said. "We can’t afford to lose any qualified families."
Both the House and Senate Federal and State Affairs committees held hearings on identical versions of the bill on Tuesday. Proponents spoke Tuesday; opponents are expected to speak Wednesday.